Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems: 28(3), pp. 290–291; doi:10.1017/S1742170511000639


Copyright © 2012 Cambridge University Press. Used by permission.


Edited by Fred Magdoff and Brian Tokar. 2010. Monthly Review Press, New York. 348 p. Paperback, cloth US $75.00, paper US $18.95, ISBN 13 978-1-58367-226-6.

That doubling of food production over the next four decades will be needed to adequately nourish our human population is not news, but the incredible steps essential to achieve that goal and their political and social implications are less well reported. In this series of 16 essays edited by Fred Magdoff and Brian Tokar, several thoughtful specialists in global food issues explore the historical, biological, economic, energy, political and social dimensions of the current direction of development and their potential consequences for the future. The book provides a provoking and revealing perspective on the extent of challenges that must be overcome in reaching the daunting goal of feeding nine billion people. From the opening words in Chapter 16 by Jules Pretty, eminent and prolific writer from the University of Essex,

‘Something is wrong with our agricultural and food systems. Despite good progress in increasing productivity in the last century, hundreds of millions of people remain hungry and malnourished. Further hundreds of millions eat too much, or consume the wrong kinds of food, and it is making them ill. The health of the environment suffers too, as degradation of soil and water seems to accompany many of the agricultural systems we have developed in recent years. Can nothing be done, or is it time for the expansion of an agriculture founded on social science and ecological principles and in harmony with people, their societies and cultures?’

Professor Pretty clearly summarizes the challenge in both ecological and social terms. The editors and several authors point out the large advances in production achieved by the Green Revolution, yet observe in a contemporary reflection the broader consequences of an all-out effort to increase crop yields and economic returns in the short term. To be sure, we initially reduced prices for some basic grains, but now recognize many of the emergent properties of this process, such as longer-term challenges to health of the environment, to the well-being of many now-marginalized farmers and families, and to social equity in distribution of benefits in most developing countries where high-tech agriculture has been implemented in some areas.